IEEE Medal of Honor Goes to Vint Cerf

He codesigned the Internet protocol and transmission control protocol

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The Royal Society

IEEE Life Fellow Vinton “Vint” Cerf, widely known as the “Father of the Internet,” is the recipient of the 2023 IEEE Medal of Honor. He is being recognized “for co-creating the Internet architecture and providing sustained leadership in its phenomenal growth in becoming society’s critical infrastructure.”

The IEEE Foundation sponsors the annual award.

While working as a program manager at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Information Processing Techniques Office in 1974, Cerf and IEEE Life Fellow Robert Kahn designed the Transmission Control Protocol and the Internet Protocol. TCP manages data packets sent over the Internet, making sure they don’t get lost, are received in the proper order, and are reassembled at their destination correctly. IP manages the addressing and forwarding of data to and from its proper destinations. Together they make up the Internet’s core architecture and enable computers to connect and exchange traffic.

“Cerf’s tireless commitment to the Internet’s evolution, improvement, oversight, and evangelism throughout its history has made an indelible impact on the world,” said one of the endorsers of the award. “It is largely due to his efforts that we even have the Internet, which has changed the way society lives.

“The Internet has enabled a large part of the world to receive instant access to news, brought us closer to friends and loved ones, and made it easier to purchase products online,” the endorser said. “It’s improved access to education and scientific discourse, made smartphones useful, and opened the door for social media, cloud computing, video conferencing, and streaming. Cerf also saw early on the importance of decentralized control, with no one company or government completely in charge.”

Since 2005, Cerf has been vice president and chief Internet evangelist at Google in Reston, Va., spreading the word about adopting the Internet in service to public good. He is responsible for identifying new technologies and enabling policies that support the development of advanced, Internet-based products and services.

Enhancing the World Wide Web

Cerf left DARPA in 1982 to join Microwave Communications Inc. (now part of WorldCom), headquartered in Washington, D.C., as vice president of its digital information services division. A year later, he led the development of MCI Mail, the first commercial email service on the Internet.

In 1986 he left the company to become vice president of the newly formed Corporation for National Research Initiatives, also in Reston. He worked alongside Kahn at the not-for-profit organization, developing digital libraries, gigabit speed networks, and knowledge robots (mobile software agents used in computer networks).

He returned to MCI in 1994 and served as a senior vice president for 11 years before joining Google.

“It is largely due to Cerf’s efforts that we even have the Internet.”

Together with Kahn, Cerf founded the nonprofit Internet Society in 1992. The organization helps set technical standards, develops Internet infrastructure, and helps lawmakers set policy.

Cerf served as its president from 1992 to 1995 and was chairman of the board of the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers from 2000 to 2007. ICANN works to ensure a stable, secure, and interoperable Internet by managing the assignment of unique IP addresses and domain names. It also maintains tables of registered parameters needed for the protocol standards developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force.

Cerf has received several recognitions for his work, including the 2004 Turing Award from the Association for Computing Machinery. The honor is known as the Nobel Prize of computing. Together with Kahn, he was awarded a 2013 Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, a 2005 U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a 1997 U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation.

This article appears in the March 2023 print issue.

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